New Orleans’ musical Jordans
by JASON BERRY
The centerpiece of the new Louisiana Red Hot Records CD Marlon Jordan Featuring Stephanie Jordan is the introduction of a new singer. Trumpeter Marlon Jordan, who hit the music world hard in the 1990s with three well-praised recordings on the Columbia label, features his sister Stephanie on vocals. Where has this lady been hiding?
Stephanie Jordan has impressive agility as a singer. Listening to her waltz through these lyrics, displaying equal parts pleasure and pain, takes you into the lush side of the blues, when the force of love throttles the heart with pangs you never forget, but which you simply learn not to remember every waking hour.
On the subtitle cut, “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” Stephanie works with lyrics that are entwined with the memory of Johnny Adams in his mellow years, the lounge lizard vein; her version is marked by a softening of the gruffer blues style for which that late singer was known.
Johnny Adams, the self-styled “songbird of the South,” sang “You Don’t Know What Love Is” in the last decade of his career. Rounder Records producer Scott Billington insured that he had a stellar studio band and good arrangements. Adams’ voice, seasoned by years of cigarettes, took on a deep, husky, brooding suggestiveness, as if each phrase was tinged with the sorrow of “you-know-I-been-there-and-got-hit-hard.” Stephanie’s voice has the warmer, sensuous hues of youth. With lyrics by Don Raye and Gene DePaul, s/he sings:
You don’t know
What love is
Until you learn the meaning
Of the blues
Stephanie Jordan’s interpretation, accompanied by Marlon’s sleek horn lines, conveys a young woman’s meditation on why love leads to sorrow — a view of the human experiment more focused on spring roots than the bluesman’s vista of winter rain. After the first few times I listened to Jordan’s take, I went back to the Adams version, switching between the two, wondering what it would be like to hear alternating passages of Stephanie singing to Johnny and vice versa, as Natalie Cole sang in response on those “Unforgettable” tracks laid down years ago by her long departed pére, Nat King Cole.
The great drummer Art Blakey said that once a musician puts an idea into the world, the world owns it. He might have added that the better the idea, the more it will be reworked. “You Don’t Know What Love Is” stands as a stunning song in both renditions, Stephanie’s and Johnny’s. That sense of shifting ownership in the territories of jazz endows this new CD in other ways as well.
Stephanie’s sister Rachel Jordan is the accomplished executive producer on this new CD. Rachel, who trained at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, Md., and is a member of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, plays a silken violin on several cuts. As producer, Rachel oversaw a recording that registers a quality of high musicianship, particularly in the arrangements by pianist Darrell Lavigne.
Marlon Jordan Featuring Stephanie Jordan is also a debut portrait of the larger family as influenced (guided may be too overarching a term) by patriarch Edward “Kidd” Jordan, the longtime SUNO jazz educator and driving force in the World Saxophone Quartet. Kidd’s wailing sax solo on “My Favorite Things” is a potent reminder that John Coltrane’s version of that famous song stands as a classic of jazz improvisation and (to borrow from Blakey once again) therefore subject to improvisation. The presence of Alvin Batiste’s poetic clarinet on “All Blues,” a Miles Davis composition from the “birth of the cool” era, is an echoing reminder of that small network of progressive jazzmen and composers – Kidd, Alvin Batiste, Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste, the late Nat Perrilliat, James Black and Mel Lastie – who together forged a Crescent City modernist sound more than a generation ago.
Following in that imposing tradition is Kent Jordan, the vaunted flutist who hit his stride as a jazz artist on the national scene in the early 1990s. Kent wields a mean piccolo on the cut “Now Baby, or Never.”
Like the Humphreys, Adamses, Marsalises, Nevilles and other clans now synonymous with New Orleans music, the Jordans are advancing a tradition of music shaped by family ties. With due respect to the mystery of how artistic genes course through generations of such families, I think something else bears mention. Many years ago I asked Ellis Marsalis if his sons’ success stemmed from a family tradition. “No,” he said, deadpan. “It was the teaching.”
Kidd Jordan might genially agree. He, Marsalis and Alvin Batiste are pioneering jazz educators. If every public school in this city had a band with good music teachers, a bonafide music industry would be immeasurably strengthened.
In the meantime, keep your eye on Stephanie Jordan. She’ll pop up on your television on some national show one of these days – hopefully with kinfolk in tow. •